Various venues
United Kingdom

Reaching beyond regional connections, the ethos of UK-wide initiative Connect/Exchange aimed to forge new connections in the burgeoning stages of artist projects by offering a research and development exchange programme directed at artists working with film and lens-based media.

Conceived by North East organization Northern Film and Media, the first strand of the project saw galleries from three UK regions – The NewBridge Project in NewcastleMetal in Liverpool and A3 Project Space in Birmingham – partner up to enable residency and networking opportunities for selected artists. With the North East acting as the ‘hub’ location, the ethos behind the project was not only to offer a platform for making, but also for the gallery placements to act as hosts for the visiting artists. This unique kind of support involved introductions to organizations and fellow artists in the region, in the hope that the links forged in the 3 week duration of the initial residency would have further longevity beyond the project and that in turn, artists could return to their home cities and feed back their experiences.

Speaking with Lauren Healey, Projects & Development Manager at NFM, she described how there was never a set ‘brief’ for how each project should run, saying that the aim was more to “provide a flexible framework so that host organizations could use their strengths, their networks, their particular knowledge to create quite a bespoke opportunity.”

This tailored means of working also fed into the outreach of the artist call out, in which applicants had to propose their idea and express how it was relevant to a particular venue and location. Selection was then made by the host galleries and Lauren Healey, who explained that through this open call process, the reach of the project was broadened further, as even those who were not selected could later be involved in some of the surrounding events and social networking.

The first strand saw a direct exchange between the North East and North West, with Manchester-based artist Chris Paul Daniels working in residence at The NewBridge Project and Mat Fleming working with Metal in Liverpool. Both projects fully realised the ethos of the Connect/Exchange project with Daniels commenting that “through my studio space at NewBridge I was automatically part of a community of artists working in and out of their studios”. The ‘partnership’ mentality was also reflected in Fleming’s selection in Liverpool, where they not only engaged with his project but as an organisation felt that they could give him optimum support in its production.

As with all pilot projects, things adapt and refine along the way, and so the second exchange of the first strand took a slightly different format. Recent Newcastle University graduates Mark Bleakley and Joshua Wilson aka ‘Dennis Isou’, spent time developing a new performance work, ‘A Crack in the Window’ at A3 Project Space. Rather than offering a return artist exchange, the project adapted to include a reciprocal curatorial visit from Birmingham and Digbeth area, offering a further chance for networking and coinciding with the opening weekend of the North East’s AV Festival.

A Crack in the Window (Birmingham) from dennisisou on Vimeo.

Connect/Exchange developed again with the launch of a second strand in April 2014, extending the project beyond the borders and into Scotland, coinciding with Glasgow International Festival. Artists Tom Walker, Aideen Doran, Toby Phips Lloyd and Leah Millar were all selected to work with lens-specialist gallery Stills in Edinburgh. An initial weeklong micro-residency saw all four artists gather together for a whirlwind of specifically tailored introductions to organisations and practitioners. This intensive hosting programme garnered almost immediate results, with resident artist Toby Phips Lloyd performing a new work the following month in Glasgow following a connection made during a networking breakfast.

A later two-month extension to the initial micro-residency allowed for relationships built in the first week to be cemented and built upon. This two-part approach to the project was such a success that it will act as the framework for future versions of the Connect/Exchange programme. The project had a great beneficial impact on the host venues too, as Stills Curator Cheryl Connell explains “We have made some great contacts in the North-East of England and aim to develop these further in the future. The project brought a really interesting variety of practitioners into our building, contributing to a busy and exciting atmosphere that was extremely rewarding for us and our audiences.”

Where the links and conversations held during the Connect/Exchange programmes will lead will only really become apparent over time, but no doubt this dual approach of both formal and informal meeting opportunities has impacted both on the artists and organisations involved. From my conversation with Lauren, it was clear that the residencies didn’t always work in a way that was expected, but the flexible approach taken to the organisation of the project and its ability to adapt beyond a given framework allowed for new and more effective approaches to be discovered and no doubt it will continue to reap rewards.

For full information on the Connect/Exchange residency, blogs and artist profiles you can visit the project website

Northern Film and Media continue their work programming and supporting artist activity with the premiere of a new work by US artist Ben Russell at Berwick Film and Media Festival 2014.